Criminal Appeals Process

Information for Victims of Crime on Ontario's Criminal Appeal Process

  1. What is an appeal?
  2. What is an appeal hearing?
  3. When will an appeal be heard?
  4. In which court will an appeal be heard?
  5. Can I attend an appeal hearing?
  6. Does the offender attend an appeal hearing?
  7. Will the offender remain in custody before an appeal is heard?
  8. What does it mean when an offender appeals a conviction and sentence?
  9. What happens when there is an appeal against a conviction?
  10. What happens when there is an appeal against a sentence?
  11. Can the Crown appeal an acquittal or sentence?
  12. Who can I contact to find out what is happening during the appeal process?
  13. How will my privacy be protected during the appeal process?
  14. Does an appeal court hear evidence?
  15. What kind of decisions can an appeal court make?
  16. Are additional victim services available?

  1. What is an appeal?

    In Canada, anyone found guilty of breaking the law can ask a higher court to review what happened at the trial. This is called an appeal.

  2. What is an appeal hearing?

    An appeal hearing is when the appeal court listens to the arguments of the appellant and respondent.

    An appeal hearing happens after the transcripts of a trial are available and an appeal book and factum are prepared.

  3. When will an appeal be heard?

    The length of time varies with each case. The appeal court must have the trial transcripts and a record of what happened at the trial, including the appeal book. The appellant and the respondent must also file written arguments on the evidence and the law. In rare cases, additional police investigation may be needed if new evidence is brought forward.

  4. In which court will an appeal be heard?

    It depends on the type of crime. Ontario has three courts that are responsible for different things:

    1. The Court of Appeal for Ontario is the highest court of record in the province. This court hears:
      • Criminal appeals of indictable offences
      • Civil appeals of final decisions of the Superior Court of Justice
      • Appeals involving young persons
      • Some appeals of Divisional Court decisions
      • Inmate appeals
    2. The Superior Court of Justice sits in 49 court locations across Ontario. This court hears:
      • Criminal prosecutions of indictable offences
      • Some criminal prosecutions involving young persons
      • Summary conviction appeals from the Ontario Court of Justice
      • Bail reviews
      • Civil suits
      • Family law disputes involving divorce or property claims, child and spousal support, and custody and access claims
      • The Superior Court of Justice's Divisional Court hears appeals and reviews of decisions by government agencies, tribunals and boards, as well as some civil appeals under $25,000
    3. All criminal cases are commenced in the Ontario Court of Justice, and over 95 per cent of such cases are completed here. This court hears:
      • Criminal prosecutions of indictable and summary conviction offences
      • Most criminal prosecutions involving young persons
      • Provincial Offences Act appeals from decisions of justices of the peace
      • Most child protection applications, family law disputes involving custody, access and support, and adoption applications

    If you are not sure in which court your appeal will be heard, please contact:

    • In Toronto - Victim/Witness Assistance Program (416) 325-3265
    • Outside Toronto - Victim Support Line 1-888-579-2888
  5. Can I attend an appeal hearing?

    Yes. Anyone can attend appeal hearings, including victims of crime and their families. Victims may wish to bring a friend or family member to court for emotional support.

    Ontario's Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) provides emotional support and information to victims and witnesses of violent crime throughout the criminal court process. To find out how this service can help, contact:

    • In Toronto - VWAP (416) 325-3265
    • Outside Toronto - Victim Support Line 1-888-579-2888
  6. Does the offender attend an appeal hearing?

    In solicitor appeals, offenders in custody do not usually attend the appeal. In the case of inmate appeals, offenders usually attend and argue their own appeals.

  7. Will the offender remain in custody before an appeal is heard?

    A jail sentence continues even if an offender brings an appeal against the conviction and/or the sentence. The offender may ask to be released from custody (e.g., bail) until the appeal is heard.

    A bail hearing is held when an application is brought by an offender for release prior to the appeal. If the offender is released, and the case involved serious personal injury or trauma, victims may be notified either through the office of the Crown attorney who tried the case, the police, or both.

    Offenders released on bail may be subject to conditions that may include, for example, having no contact with the victim. An offender may also be required to return to jail the day before the appeal hearing.

  8. What does it mean when an offender appeals a conviction and sentence?

    In Canada, anyone found guilty of breaking the law can ask a higher court to review what happened at the trial. This is called an appeal (hyperlink to glossary).

    An offender (hyperlink to glossary) can file an appeal against a conviction (hyperlink to glossary) and/or the sentence (hyperlink to glossary). The Crown attorney (hyperlink) can also appeal an acquittal (hyperlink) or sentence but, generally speaking, the Crown's right to appeal is much more restricted than the offender's.

  9. What happens when there is an appeal against a conviction?

    The appeal court will examine whether the trial was conducted properly. This means that the court will consider, for example, whether the trial was fair or whether there were any significant errors made during the trial.

    The appeal court may also look at what happened during the trial to see if there is sufficient evidence to support the conviction.

  10. What happens when there is an appeal against a sentence?

    When asked to review a sentence, the appeal court will consider whether or not the sentence is fair. In doing so, the appeal court will look at the:

    • Nature of the crime
    • Impact of the crime on the victim
    • Background of the offender
    • Sentences imposed in similar cases
  11. Can the Crown appeal an acquittal or sentence?

    Yes, the Crown can appeal an acquittal or sentence. However, the Crown's right to appeal is not as broad as that of the accused.

    In order to appeal an acquittal, the Crown must show there was a significant error of law. For example, if important evidence was wrongly excluded at trial.

    The Crown can also appeal a sentence, but these appeals are limited because appeal courts will not usually interfere with the trial judge's decision on sentencing.

  12. Who can I contact to find out what is happening during the appeal process?

    The Crown attorney, the police, or the Victim/ Witness Assistance Program (VWAP) will do their best to keep you informed of the status of the appeal.

    In the case of a summary conviction appeal, the local Crown attorney's office that handled the trial may also handle the appeal. For information on these appeals, please contact the local Crown attorney's office that conducted the trial. You can also contact VWAP at:

    Victim/Witness Assistance Program
    Ministry of the Attorney General
    720 Bay St. - 10th Floor
    Toronto M7A 2S9
    (416) 325-1668

  13. How will my privacy be protected during the appeal process?

    If a trial judge ordered a publication ban, the order will generally continue throughout the appeal process as well.

  14. Does an appeal court hear evidence?

    Not usually. The role of the appeal court is not to hear the trial again. Witnesses are generally not called in an appeal hearing and victims are not often required to testify. However, in some limited cases, the appeal court may consider new evidence if it is significant.

  15. What kind of decisions can be made by an appeal court?

    In most cases, an appeal court can make five decisions. They are:

    1. Dismissal
      If the appeal court finds that the trial was properly conducted, and the evidence supports the conviction, it may dismiss the appeal. If the appeal court finds that an error was made, but was not significant, it may dismiss the appeal even though there was an error. The appeal court may also dismiss an appeal against a sentence if the court is satisfied that the sentence fits the crime.
    2. New trial ordered
      The appeal court may set aside the conviction and order a new trial if it finds that the trial was not fairly or properly conducted. The appeal court may also set aside the acquittal and order a new trial where there is a significant error of law.
    3. Substitute a verdict of guilt
      In a small number of cases, the appeal court may overturn an acquittal, find the offender guilty of an offence, and then sentence the offender. This power to substitute a verdict of guilt is only available when the offender has been tried by a judge sitting without a jury. Where a jury has acquitted the accused, the appeal court's powers are limited to ordering a new trial.
    4. Acquittal
      If the evidence on appeal does not support the conviction, the appeal court may acquit the offender (find the offender not guilty of the charge).
    5. Vary the sentence
      The appeal court may change the sentence and either increase or decrease the sentence, or remove or add penalties (such as a fine or probation).
  16. Are additional victims services available?

    Yes. The following services can provide more information about the appeal process, the criminal justice system, and other community services for victims of crime.

    Victim/Witness Assistance Program (VWAP)

    VWAP provides emotional support and information to victims and witnesses of violent crime throughout the criminal court process. To find out how this service can help, contact:

    • In Toronto - Victim/Witness Assistance Program (416) 325-3265
    • Outside Toronto - Victim Support Line 1-888-579-2888

    National Parole Board

    The National Parole Board provides information about the release date for offenders serving custodial sentences of two years or more. For more information, please call 1-800-518-8817

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